Euan Findlater

Portfolio Website

Chewbacca, Kermit, and Fake News: The Art of Virality

How on Earth did this become viral!? I ask this question a lot. For instance:

How does a completely ridiculous video of a “Chewbacca Lady” become so popular?

How does a meme of Kermit the Frog overflow my social news feeds?

And recently, how has this fake news story become so widely spread and possibly believed?

According to Josh Elman from Greylock Partners: “The most basic element common to all these different types of virality is inception…The goal of all viral efforts is to insert (or “incept”) an idea of what a product can do into someone else’s head, and to get them so excited about it they want to try it and use it.”

Once these products, whether they are videos, images, songs, stories, or services, get incepted into our minds, we will then continue to share the products to our social community. The sharing part of the process is essentially tied with our current and future communication network dominated by social media. Social media is, as Alfred Hermida states in Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters, ever-present, ubiquitous, and enhances our capacity to share.

With this in mind, because of the networked-age we live in, anyone can play an increasingly integral part in the process of virality, from its production to its dissemination.

But that doesn’t answer the question at hand…how did this specific thing become viral?

For one thing, the theory of cumulative advantage plays a large role.

“Cumulative advantage means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors.”

Josh Elman asserts that there are five types of virality. Each of these are unique, and in order to be utilized, they have to be specifically tied with the correct product. The types include: Word of Mouth, Incentivized Word of Mouth, Demonstration, Infectious, and Outbreak.

Okay, so the right product needs to be delivered at the right time, to the right place and right audience, through the right medium. But what sort of viral content is specifically attractive?

Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer, from Unmarketing, provide three secret ingredients for viral marketing:

The message is funny.
The message has that WOW factor.
The message evokes emotion.

Ultimately, however, it is quite impossible to explain why something truly goes viral. It is important to understand this uncertainty because it has significant implications socially, commercially, and politically.


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